To say that I’m a fan of Flannery O’Connor is a bit of an understatement. She might have been my top reason for wanting to move to Savannah, GA.—along with it being a beautiful and small city with tons of culture and history, near the beach, and in my home state, Savannah is also where Flannery was born and lived as a child. She regularly attended mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which was right across the square from her home, and is seriously one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.
I think that people who know of her either a) love-love her, b) don’t understand her, or c) have a pretty extreme repulsion to her stories. And then there’s d) all of the above.
I remember the first time I heard her name spoken (10th grade, American Literature class, Mrs. Hawkins). And I remember reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find” that year and being horrified, but strangely drawn in. Almost a decade later, a friend recommended Wise Blood, and so I took it with me to Jerusalem and distinctly remember reading much of it on the roof. It left me perplexed and not a little depressed—so much about living there was hard, so I was usually wanting an escape from that, not to dive deeper into the sicknesses that plague our society.
Then, several years later, I was pointed to Mystery and Manners, which I devoured whole, earmarked and underlined, and continue to return to every few months for one reason or another. It changed me. In it, Flannery writes about what it means to be a Catholic artist, a Catholic writer. When I first read it, I was still very much a Protestant, but I thought to myself, “If this is what it means to be a Catholic, then I’m more Catholic than I thought!” Thus, the beginning of my journey to the Catholic Church and why Flannery is one of my patron "saints.”* I have no doubt that she led me to the Church and prays for me still.
*She’s not an official saint—yet. ;)
The feelings about Flannery that I listed above are well founded. Her fiction is hard to understand, and is often mistaken for what it is not—macabre, and hopeless. In fact, in her odd and distinct way, she was doing the opposite of that. She was writing about grace, namely, the act of grace on a person unwilling to receive it.
She lived a short life, and much of it was spent in struggle. Her suffering and limitations gave her guardrails for her passion. She lived as if she knew what story she was meant to write and she might not have time to finish it.
I could go on and on about her. The thing is, I’ve only read about half of everything she wrote—novels, short stories, letters, essays, book reviews, etc. This year I’m setting out to change that. In 2019, I’m reading everything she ever wrote, including re-reading the things that I’ve already read. Along with this, I plan to read some things written about her, as well. My goal (and it might take much longer than a year—probably will) is to become an amateur expert on Flannery O’Connor.
And really, I just want to spend more time with my friend.
I plan on writing here, periodically, about what I’m reading, things I’m learning, etc. I might even plan a little book club, if there is enough interest. So let me know what your questions are--so I can be on the lookout for answers as I read. Right now, in January, I’ve begun The Habit of Being (her book of letters) and Wise Blood(her first novel.)
Since this is such a “me” thing to do—to plan out a course for myself, over an extended period of time, with check points and goals, and all that—I wonder if you have done, or would do, something like this, and what would the subject be?
Let me know in the comments, on facebook, or instagram! Let’s use #YUplotthecourse.